By Brandon Patterson
Detroit Free Press
Melissa Butler, who was rejected on national television for her visionary lipstick line, is getting the last laugh.
Butler, 31, launched her brand, The Lip Bar, six years ago in Detroit. She brought it to national television’s “Shark Tank” in 2015 and was rejected outright. Fast forward another three years: Her product is now on Target shelves around the nation.
On Feb. 18, Lip Bar lipstick made its debut in Target stores.
Butler grew up on Detroit’s east side near city airport. She attended Cass Tech and Florida A&M University, studying finance. She moved to New York and worked for Barclay Investment Bank in 2009, at the height of the economic crash.
But Butler didn’t stay in finance. She branched out and became an entrepreneur in cosmetology, starting The Lip Bar online while living in New York. Her motivation is “to challenge the beauty standard” because she feels that the media portrays beauty in a “linear” fashion.
“I find that very frustrating,” Butler said. “They look at beauty from a very narrow perspective and it’s never inclusive.”
Butler decided not only to challenge the status quo but also to take a healthier approach to beauty.
“When I started the Lip Bar, I was taking a more holistic approach to my own lifestyle,” Butler said. “So I wanted to use products that not only looked good on me but were good for me.”
The Lip Bar uses only vegan and cruelty-free products. Butler also doesn’t believe in testing on animals.
“It’s kind of torturous,” Butler said.
Butler took her line to “Shark Tank,” trying to get investors, but also exposure to the millions of people who watch the show.
“We really wanted to make sure that we got aired, because not all of the businesses that are pitched get aired,” Butler said. “We went on there and we got this really public rejection.”
However, Butler didn’t see it as a defeat or a red flag to stop. If anything, it further fueled her ambition.
The day she was rejected on “Shark Tank,” she said that her website crashed from 30,000-plus hits. Over the next two weeks, she said, approximately 120,000 people visited the site.
“If nothing else, it validated our market,” Butler said. “It ended up being one of the best things for business because of the level of visibility that we were able to get.”
That level of visibility gave her the opportunity to partner with Target three years later. Butler said she admired Target’s commitment to diversity and multicultural beauty and felt that The Lip Bar could add value to the retailer.
In 2016, Target began selling her products online. On Sunday they launched in stores.
The Lip Bar is now in 42 Target stores in cities including Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and St. Louis.
Butler also started The Lip Bar retail store in Detroit in July of 2017. It is the only solo branch of the store.
“My goal is just to expand,” Butler said. “The goal is to create beauty that’s affordable, that’s accessible and that’s high performing. We want to be in stores like Ulta. We want to be in more Targets. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Despite her success, Butler said she still likes to live in the moment and hold onto the rituals of her childhood.
“I aspire to be a hippie,” Butler said. “I stare at the water, I stare at the moon. There’s so many quirky things. I love to hula-hoop. The things from my childhood I refuse to let go.”